New Technology Created a Cultural Evolution
The Red River cart was a sturdy vehicle made entirely from locally available materials and was drawn by teams of horses or draft oxen. It had the advantage of allowing for the transport of massive cargoes. Whereas the Natives and the Métis had previously used dog and horse travois for transporting beaver pelts and small buffalo hunts on the plains, the Red River cart was not limited by the carrying capacity of individual dogs or horses dragging a small burden across the uneven ground. The Red River cart was capable of carrying nearly a thousand pounds of cargo – faster and several times more efficiently – especially when linked together into a wagon train of several dozen carts.
A historical example describes the amazing construction and capacity of the Red River cart:
“The carts composing the train were of uniform make, and of a species called “Red River carts”. They are constructed entirely of wood, without any iron whatever, the axels and rims of the wheels forming no exception to the rule. Although this might at first sight appear a disadvantage, as denoting a want of strength, yet it is really the reverse, because in the country traversed by these vehicles, wood is abundant and always to be obtained in quantities sufficient to mend any breakages which might take place. The only tool necessary, not only to mend but to construct a cart, are an axe, a saw, a screw-auger, and a draw knife. . .Each cart is drawn by an ox, and in cases where speed is an object, a horse is substituted. . .[with] the wiry little “Indian ponies”, one of which, with a load of four or five hundred pounds in the cart behind him, will overtake from fifty to sixty miles a day in a measured, but by no means hurried, jog trot. The common rate of progress made by heavy [ox] freight carts is about twenty miles a day, of traveling ten hours, the load averaging about eight hundred pounds per cart." (Hargrave 1871: 58-59)
This new technology allowed the Natives and Métis to carry massive amounts of buffalo meat and hides not previously possible. With the Red River cart the people were able to rise above the loss of the beaver after 1825 and were no longer confined to hunting for mere subsistence with the extras serving as trade fodder. Instead a cultural revolution had begun.
Adapted from Red River, by Joseph James Hargrave, John Lovell Publishing (1871)